Statement by Air Marshal Brian Burridge, UK National Contingent Commander - 7 April 2003
The last 48 hours have been historic for the people of Basrah.
After decades under the heel of Saddam's brutal regime, UK forces are in the process of delivering liberation to the people of Basrah. There will be some difficult days ahead but the Ba'athist regime is finished in Basrah. These people have lived above the law for many many years. The process of calling them to account is ongoing. Whatever the Iraqi information Minister may say, and his statements over the last few weeks have taken denial to new and increasingly bizarre heights, the days of the Ba'athist regime are numbered. The threat that this regime poses to the world through Weapons of Mass Destruction is fast diminishing. We will continue until the threat is eradicated. The process of liberating the whole of Iraq continues.
Liberty is not without a price and in the course of operations in Basrah we have taken some casualties. Three UK soldiers have so far been killed and some have been injured. Operations are ongoing against the remnants of the Ba'athist paramilitaries so UK forces and the civilian population still remain at risk. Since operations to liberate Iraq commenced the UK have had 30 personnel killed - and two are missing presumed killed. Some have been the result of enemy action; others have been due to accidents. However these brave men died, our thoughts continue to be with their families and friends. I hope that they are at least able to take some comfort from the joyous scenes we have seen in Basrah and elsewhere. They did not die in vain.
I want to take a few minutes to explain operations in Basrah. You will be aware that UK forces had been poised on the outskirts for some days and have engaged the Ba'athist paramilitaries routinely. We mounted armoured thrusts into the city to undermine the paramilitaries' confidence and add to the hope of the population. In the early hours of Sunday morning, Challenger tanks from the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards alongside the Black Watch moved into the south and west of Basrah to test the resolve of the paramilitaries. They found only limited resistance. Commanders on the ground - Major General Robin Brims who is the General Officer Commanding 1 (UK) Armoured Division and Brigadier Graham Binns of 7 Armoured Brigade - the renowned Desert Rats - decided to exploit this opportunity and begin the liberation.
Challengers and Warrior from the Black Watch and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, supported by elements of the Irish Guards, pressed further into the city from the west.
The 2nd Royal Tank Regiment battlegroup swiftly moved into the centre of the city in their Challengers, supported by Warrior armoured vehicles.
The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers battlegroup - again in Warriors supported by Challengers quickly dominated the North of the city and around the dock area.
40 Commando Royal Marines from 3 Commando Brigade moved deep into the South of the city, focusing on the palace area.
The 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment are in the process of sweeping the "old town" in Basrah which is a myriad of narrow winding streets and alleyways so has to be done on foot.
All our forces have engaged the paramilitaries whenever they presented themselves across the city. As I speak, operations are ongoing.
Naturally, I am very proud of what they have achieved. The people of Basrah are getting their first real glimpse of the courage, tenacity and professionalism of our armed forces. I hope the people back in UK take satisfaction from that. Over the coming days we will engage with the people of Basrah in the same way UK forces have done in Umm Qasr, Az Zubayr and countless hotspots around the world. We will move quickly from combat operations to peace support operations and start to set the condition for the people to get back to normality. Our people are the greatest asset any commander could wish for. But there will be difficult days ahead; paramilitary resistance from the remnants of the regime will not just disappear. We must proceed carefully to reduce the risk to both the civilian population and our forces; this takes time.
I also want to say a few words about the US advance on Baghdad. Naturally I have enormous personal and professional interest in the conduct of military operations. As a former commandant of the UK Joint Command and Staff College, the study of developments in post-modern warfare is a particular passion of mine.
The US advance on Baghdad is something that military historians and academics will pour over in great detail for decades to come. It will be a required case study for Staff college students throughout the world who will examine the dexterity, audacity and sheer brilliance of how the US put the plan into effect. The US has, of course, paid a price. As coalition partners we share their loss of personnel and salute their courage.
After decades of oppression, the people of Iraq will take time to trust us. We must earn their respect. We take our responsibilities to the Iraqi people very seriously. We are already earning some of that respect by bringing stability to parts of Southern Iraq. We are showing them that we come as liberators not oppressors. We now want to enable and facilitate their recovery from 25 years of wicked oppression.
Our forces are already patrolling the streets of Umm Qasr, Saffwan and Az Zubayr in berets rather than helmets. We have seen schools opening; we turned the lights on in Umm Qasr for the first time for many, many months. Overall our troops are doing what British troops do best - giving the Iraqi people confidence.
Our forces are beginning to set the conditions for the NGOs such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Red Crescent and UNICEF to put in train projects for the longer term. The UNESCORD have recently announced that Umm Qasr is a permissive environment and we hope that this will spread to other areas when appropriate.
To provide some short term emergency humanitarian assistance, UK engineers have built a 3 km long pipeline to pump supplies of water to Umm Qasr. It is pumping 2 million litres of fresh water every day - enough for 160,000 people. RFA Sir Galahad has already delivered over 200 tons of humanitarian aid which is being distributed in an orderly way. As I speak, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Sir Percivale is docking at Umm Qasr with another 300 tons of emergency humanitarian assistance.
In the first 7 days of this month we have delivered over a million litres of bottled water and over 100,000 humanitarian daily rations by lorry from Kuwait.
There is a lot of speculation at the moment about the transition stage between military operations and the emergence of a new representative Iraqi government. The general parameters of the plan have already been described by others; a partnership between the coalition military providing security; ORHA (Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance) to help with rebuilding Iraq, an emerging Iraqi political leadership, and the UN. I am not going to give you a great deal more detail for a number of reasons, firstly many of the specifics will depend on the situation on the ground post conflict, secondly I am a military commander not a politician, and thirdly this issue in on the agenda for Prime Minister Blair and President Bush who are meeting this evening in Belfast. I expect them to make a statement tomorrow. But as I said, the basic architecture is clear, and agreed between us all, the US, British and UN, to move towards a representative Iraqi Government as soon as we reasonably can.
We can be immensely proud of what we have achieved so far but we will keep pressing ahead until this regime is consigned to history and the threat they pose to the world is eradicated. All the people of Iraq will be free and they can begin the process of governing themselves and re-entering the family of the international community.
day is fast approaching.
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